By Koustubh “K.J.” Bagchi and Livia Luan
Brittany Kaiser, the former director of business development at Cambridge Analytica, stands in front of a picturesque background as she casually looks into the camera and explains that last year, data surpassed oil in value. Now, she concludes, “data is the most valuable asset on Earth.” This is one of the many unnerving scenes from Netflix’s recently-released documentary, “The Great Hack,” which illustrates in detail the rise and fall of Cambridge Analytica — a political consulting firm that was implicated in one of the greatest personal data collection schemes in recent history.
While personal data is coveted by so many companies that play in the digital space, such information is neither recorded in monetized form within balance sheets nor reported to shareholders. Meanwhile, the average consumer has little to no idea of what personal information is actually being collected every time they take an action online. Last year, we wrote about how privacy breaches and personal data collection practices underscored the need for federal action. Since then, both states and localities across the country have passed relevant legislation as Congress continues to debate what regulation should look like.
In May 2018, Vermont began requiring data brokers to register annually with the Secretary of State, as well as to implement and maintain a written information security program with safeguards to protect personally identifiable information. One month later, California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act, which requires companies storing large amounts of personal information to disclose the types of data they collect and to allow users the choice of not having their data sold. At the local level, San Francisco and Somerville, MA voted in May 2019 and June 2019, respectively, to prohibit government use of facial recognition technology, due to concerns regarding its potential to undermine people’s privacy.
At the federal level, bipartisan working groups in the House of Representatives and the Senate pledged to pass privacy legislation before California’s law, the toughest privacy law at the state and local level, goes into effect in January 2020. However, the decreasing pace of progress may threaten that goal. According to a tech reporter monitoring the process, “the key challenges confronting lawmakers are crafting a law that not only would set a federal standard on how tech companies must safeguard consumers’ data but also provide enough remedies for consumers, and have such a bill win the backing of a plurality of lawmakers in both chambers.”
Advancing the civil and human rights of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and other underserved communities in the digital space remains a top priority for us. To that end, we continue to advocate for passing privacy legislation that includes civil rights protections to guide the use and collection of personal data. Privacy violations affect all Americans, but low-income people and those in our community who lack critical resources to understand, prevent, or alleviate these harms are at greater risk. In our role as co-chair of the AAPI Tech Table, a coalition of eleven organizations that represent the digital interests of the AAPI community, we are leading efforts to establish privacy principles that reflect the needs and perspectives of our community members.
The diversity of the AAPI community — which encompasses over 50 different ethnicities and 100 languages and/or dialects — presents a unique challenge in establishing principles that protect our entire community. Moreover, about 35% of Asian Americans are limited English proficient (LEP). LEP individuals may find it more difficult to stay reasonably informed about the data collected on them, understand complex data breach notifications, and protect themselves from discriminatory or exploitative online advertising. As a result of our desire to protect all members of our richly diverse community, the AAPI Tech Table’s principles focus on three pillars: access, transparency, and civil rights protections.
When these principles are released, we hope that all stakeholders in the federal privacy debate understand and incorporate the unique concerns of our community, so that the final piece of legislation is one that enshrines the values of transparency, accountability, and equity.
Koustubh “K.J.” Bagchi is the Senior Counsel for Telecommunications, Technology, and Media at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. Livia Luan is the Programs Associate and Executive Assistant at Advancing Justice | AAJC, where she supports the telecommunications, technology, and media program on rapidly evolving issues such as digital privacy, digital equity, and facial recognition technology.